By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
August 25, 2021
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The last time Brandon Peters saw Nebraska on the opposite line-of-scrimmage was arguably his best four quarters of action in an Illinois jersey.
Peters was coming off testing positive with coronavirus where he later said he felt physically drowsy and had flu-like symptoms resulting in a mandatory 21-day isolation, all of which followed arguably the most frustrating outing of his college career. Less than a month from when he stepped on the field in Lincoln, Neb., Peters finished an embarrassing 45-7 loss at Madison by completing just 8 of 19 for 87 yards and getting swapped in and out of the game with freshman sensation quarterback Isaiah Williams.
With two minutes and 31 seconds left in the third quarter, Peters followed up a 1-yard quarterback dive into the end zone by emphatically making sure a Nebraska defender saw the current scoreboard that read: ‘Illinois 37, Nebraska 17’. The Illini quarterback would finish that contest by completing 18 of 25 passes (his best completion percentage at Illinois) for 205 yards and two total touchdowns.
“I definitely have a calm, cool attitude but I’m also very competitive and I want to win,” Peters said following that Nov. 21 win. “One of their defensive players wanted to talk a little bit. So I just wanted to point to the scoreboard and didn’t want to say much to him.”
After missing three games, Peters led Illinois to a 41-23 victory at Nebraska - the first for the Illini program in Lincoln since Red Grange was in the backfield in 1924.
"It's in the back of the mind because nobody wanted the game to go like that, so it's like a redemption kind of," Nebraska senior safety Marquel Dismuke said. "But at the same time we're focusing on this weekend, this year's Illinois. Since they have a new coaching staff, we're just trying to focus up and get the game plan right."
The only thing Peters is pointing toward these days is the season opener for his sixth year of college football against the same Nebraska program that he confidently walked through less than a calendar year ago. Unfortunately, not much has remained the same for Peters, the Illini program since that historic win at Nebraska. New coaches to find chemistry with, new offensive system to learn, a completely revamped receiver group and a new sense of urgency for the 23-year-old.
“You can take the scheme (from the 2020 game) and see what they’re doing a little bit but it’s a whole new game because you have to go out and execute another time,” Peters said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a whole different (Nebraska) team. They have a whole new mindsight.”
Peters will also look across a Nebraska defense that returns the most production from last season of any team in the Western Division of the Big Ten Conference. The Cornhuskers, which finished the 2020 season with a 3-5 record, had eight players who started seven of its eight games last season and 15 players who had at least one start. However, Peters wasn’t the only quarterback last season to have success against a Nebraska defense that surrendered 29.4 points per game. Ohio State’s Justin Fields completed 20 of 21 passes in a season-opening defeat and Purdue’s Jack Plummer was able to use Jeff Brohm’s spread attack toward 334 passing yards in West Lafayette.
When Illinois hosts Nebraska on Aug. 28 to kick off the 2021 college football season in the first game between two Power Five Conference opponents, Peters will be operating the fifth offensive system in his college career. He had three systems to learn in his time at Michigan and is on his second offensive coordinator since his arrival in Champaign in Aug. 2019.
“Going into a game plan you want to have that communication between the (offensive coordinator) and the quarterback,” Peters said. “If you’re not on the same level as the OC, it can get choppy and the play may not run as smoothly as you would want.”
Besides making a clever reference to the Micahel Scott character in ‘The Office’ about “not being superstitious, not even a little stitious”, the Avon, Ind., native mentioned Tuesday afternoon with local media that he’ll have obtained three degrees before his college career is over.
“BP’s got a really live arm,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “I’ve been in the NFL three years, and I would say he has that type of caliber arm. Just far as a 10-yard out route to a 60-yard post, he has all of the throws. It’s just whether or not he can make them to the right person at the right time in the right situation.”
As a comparison to what he’s trying to accomplish with Peters, Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen referenced his one-year experience in 2015 with current NFL quarterback Jeff Driskel. Driskel transferred from Florida to Louisiana Tech where Petersen served as offensive coordinator from 2013–2015 and Driskel finished his final season of college football by completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 4,026 yards with 27 touchdowns that culminated in a nine-win season and a bowl victory.
“I’ve had three or four one-year guys, and I wish I could have had more with all of them,” Petersen said. “I’d love to have BP for three years. I sat down the first day with him and I said, ‘Listen, my job is to help you have the best year of your career. That’s it. If you listen to me and you listen to Coach B., we can accomplish that and you can go out and have the best year of your career.’”
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